Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Neurodiversity and Autism Awareness Month

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Neurodiversity and Autism Awareness Month

       I hope everyone at Fordham and beyond had a nice Easter Break, and will continue to enjoy the upcoming holidays and beautiful spring weather!
      This month, I wanted to mention a cause that is dear to my heart: Autism Awareness. April is Autism Awareness Month, and in this post, I wanted to increase awareness by sharing briefly how my interaction with individuals with autism has shaped my academic interests and intellectual pursuits.
      I began graduate school as someone who loved literary studies. I thought, and still think, that studying and teaching literature, and art in general, could make the world a better place; that by extending conversations about art, we could forge connections and understandings between individuals and groups that would create harmony in the world. I know these are maybe naive ideas, but I truly feel that studying and teaching humanities provides a benefit to the world.
       In order to help put myself through graduate school financially, I began working as an ABA therapist in the home of a family with two children who had been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. What was incredible about working with these two boys was that it opened me up to understanding how diverse the human brain and mind really is. These boys each learned, thought, and processed information in ways completely different from each other, and completely different from anyone I'd ever met. It changed my whole perspective on the ways in which studying and teaching art, language arts, and humanities subjects could, indeed, have an impact on the world. Suddenly, I began to see that forging connections and understandings between individuals and groups was important to bridge not only cultural and social gaps but also cognitive, perceptive, and sensory diversities.
      This realization changed my life and changed the way I studied literature and narrative. I embarked on my dissertation project which studies the history of representation of mental disabilities in American fiction. I also began attending disability studies panels and conferences, which are great because they are interdisciplinary and thus have exposed me to a wide variety of graduate research and scholarship  related to disability, bodies, difference, and neurodiversity. I also began working at a school for children with Autism, hoping to be able to help more learners with Autism acquire the skills in the way they learn best, in order to become more independent and self-expressed.
         In celebration of Autism Awareness Month, I urge you to learn something new about ASD, or share what you know and have experienced with someone else to keep the conversation going!
In the meantime, check out the Organization for Autism Research, which gives grants to graduate students researching autism issues across disciplines such as psychology, sociology, biology, neuroscience, and more. And, here's a great article from The Chronicle in 2009 called Autism as an Academic Paradigm. 
Let me know if you have any other questions or thoughts!

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